The British record buying public have long had a strange fascination for soundalike cover versions - essentially cheap knock-off remakes of existing hits. Once upon a time they were a viable alternative to licensing the original versions for cheap compilation LPs, hence a long-running series (one of many) of "Top Of The Pops" albums in the 1970s, two of them even topping the charts in 1971 during a brief period when budget albums were accepted into the main listings.
Lately the concept of the soundalike cover has made a comeback, thanks to both the insistence of record labels on holding back the release of big international hits to stimulate demand here and the ease of producing them and more importantly getting them online to sell. All too often a much in-demand potential hit will find itself competing with "spoiler" knock-off remakes, often causing panic at the label which own the "real" version. In recent months we've seen Call Me Maybe beaten into the charts by two different copycat covers, whilst last week Flo Rida's Whistle was released a fortnight earlier than planned to forestall the threat of another soundalike.
Well this week the concept reaches its zenith as one such anonymous cover version finally becomes a major hit, thanks to a major label dragging its heels over the proper release of a hugely anticipated single. New in to the singles chart at Number 9 this week is a cover of Maroon 5's forthcoming single Payphone", as credited to Precision Tunes, one of a number of hugely prolific soundalike factories. On the one hand it is actually quite amusing to picture both the consternation that Maroon 5's label must have experienced to see the single riding so high in sales flashes and potentially the frustration of purchasers who must surely have been duped into buying a rather ropey copy rather than the actual song they have been hearing on the radio - especially as the single is listed as a "Maroon 5 featuring Wiz Khalifa tribute" to deliberately sow confusion. On the other side of the coin it is a monument to major label stupidity in failing to spot that demand for the single may well be reaching fever pitch and instead sticking rigidly to the original release plan.
Releasing such covers is perfectly legal under European law and so as long as the song publishers are happy the owners of big hit records are powerless to prevent it. They can stop the covers gaining a public toe-hold by not saturating radio airplay with high profile releases for weeks before their actual release - but that means going back the policy of On Air On Sale which most major labels abandoned far too quickly last year. Meanwhile, the "real" version of Payphone is finally released this week, but will inevitably become the second version to reach the Top 10.
Meanwhile back at Number One on the UK singles chart we have to ask ourselves "what's in a name?" The artist formerly known to the voting public as Cheryl Tweedy (from Girls Aloud) changed her public image to her marital name of Cole when she began her solo career, a decision which came back to haunt her when her marriage disintegrated not long afterwards. After doggedly sticking with the Cheryl Cole brand for a little while longer she has now been deemed famous enough to join the ranks of Cher, Madonna and, I guess, Kylie in going by her first name alone. Hence at Number One this week we welcome Call My Name as performed by a Geordie princess by the name of Cheryl. It is Cheryl Tweedy-Cole's third Number One hit in her own right, with the first single from each of her two previous albums also having flown to the top in 2009 and 2010 respectively. Calvin Harris-produced Call My Name heralds the release of her new long player A Million Lights, significantly her first solo release away from the bosom of being part of the X Factor family following her abortive run as a judge on the US version of the show last year. Those who worried how she would fare without the associated promotional muscle need not have feared, at least for now. Call My Name beats even the 142,000 copies sold by Sing last week, clocking up a massive sale of 152,000 copies to become far and away the fastest seller of 2012 so far - although it should be noted that this is still the lowest first week total of any of her three Number One singles to date, with Fight For This Love in 2009 having sold 292,000 copies first week out.
Over on the album chart the Diamond Jubilee release Sing sustains its sales rather better than the single does and remains at Number One for a third straight week. This relegates Amy MacDonald's Life In A Beautiful Light to a new entry at Number 2, beating the Number 4 peak of her last release A Curious Thing in 2010 and a place behind her chart-topping debut This Is The Life in 2007. Like so many artists of her ilk she has retreated from singles sales almost completely in recent years yet still sells healthy numbers of albums. Lead single from Life In A Beautiful Light is Slow It Down which sits at Number 45 this week, a long way from becoming a 'real' hit but still her highest charting track since This Is The Life peaked at Number 28 in late 2007.
Landing in third place is Usher's Looking 4 Myself, his seventh studio album and home to current Top 10 hit Scream. He's topped the UK charts three times in the past, most recently with Here I Stand in 2008. The final curiosity of the week is the arrival at Number 9 of Fleetwood Mac's 25 Years - The Chain career retrospective boxed set, a full 20 years after it was first packaged and made available. The premium priced collection failed to chart when first released back in 1992 but make a belated debut now after being re-released at a slightly more affordable price point. It sits one place above the still strongly selling 25th anniversary re-release of Paul Simon's Graceland and one place below the Bee Gees hits collection Number Ones making this truly a chart of veteran recordings.